James Pigue, a 24-year-old member of Painters District Council 58 who fell to his death when the top of the towboat struck the scaffolding on which he was performing abrasive blasting work on the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River on July 16, 2015, was remembered last week as the Greater St. Louis Labor Council and the United Way of Greater St. Louis celebrated the 37th Annual Union Labor Mass – now known as the Robert O. Kortkamp Memorial Union Labor Mass – May 1 at the Shrine of St. Joseph.
An interfaith Labor Prayer Service, led by the Mother Teresa Danieley, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis, was held outside the Shrine prior to the mass.
About 200 union members and their families turned out for the somber program.
AN OFFERING FOR WORKERS
This year’s mass included a special recognition of workers’ lives, skills and craftsmanship, with a presentation and display at the altar of workers’ tools of their trades, presided over by Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the Labor Tribune:
- The Paint Roller with the black band of mourning, carried by Brother Gary Otten, Painters District Council 58, reminding us of the daily dangers construction and utility workers face.
- The shovel, carried by Brother Ron Mumford, CWA 6300, symbolizing how deep we go in our meaningful daily work.
- The book, paper and pencil, brought up by Sister Sonja Gholston-Byrd, CWA 6300, symbolizing all the teachers, journalists, social workers and novelists who educate children and adults to make this a better world.
- The power wrench, carried by Brother Mike Ringo, Machinists 1345, symbolizing workers who create, build and repair the machines that make our lives easier.
- The Big Book, carried by Brother Don Willey, Laborers 110, representing the hope of recovery for the many members and families who struggle to overcome addiction.
- The saxophone, carried by Brother Mike Buerk, Musicians 2-197, symbolizing how musicians and poets inspire beauty and inspiration in our troubled world.
- The Justice for Janitors sign, held proudly by Jen Disla, SEIU Local 1, MO Division, reminding us of the tens of thousands of workers mobilizing today like never before for better wages, working conditions and dignity on the job.
Finkelstein closed the presentation by holding up his smartphone, like the phones most of us carry in our pockets – once only a simple telephone, now a powerful computer symbolizing the changes in our world… and how fast computers are changing the way we work.
FIGHTING FOR WORKER SAFETY
Unions have championed and fought for worker safety throughout their history, influencing state and federal regulations and investing in health and safety education and technical expertise to protect workers’ health and often save lives.
As union members, we can never forget what is at stake as we fight for workers’ rights.